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Parenting Tweens and Teens: Learning to Ride the Wave

Last night my tween age kid was trying to finish a rather complicated science project. It wasn't going quite according to plan and she'd procrastinated so time was short. The clock was ticking and she was already up past her usual bedtime. If you are a parent of any kid that has made it through to middle school you probably know the dreaded late nights of scrambling to finish a school project. And if you've got a tween or teen who likes things to be done just so, you may even have the added bonus of their desperation or frustration when things aren't going well bringing out some big feelings.

I recently saw this post on instagram which made me laugh, because it's exactly what it feels like to live with a pre-teen. See below:

"Fuck you, tuck me in." What a wonderful reminder of the mixture of big emotions that our tweens and teens feel daily. It's pretty common for adolescents to be angry, yell, even say horrible things to their parents. Or perhaps to withdraw when the big feelings come up, because in some families it's not acceptable to openly disagree with elders. Either way this is a time of trying to figure out what it means to be who you are, with some distinction from your trusted adults. It's sort of like walking forward into darkness and needing to just feel your way along. The path is not clear but you know you have to keep moving. The unknown can be kind of terrifying. As a parent it can feel like you are being pushed away in one moment and then pulled back in the other. That push/pull is confusing for adults, and it's even more confusing for adolescents.

More and more I've been using the imagery of "ride the wave of emotions" when thinking about what it means to parent tweens and teens. Riding a wave means you are pulled along in the current, but not drowned by it. Additionally, the wave changes shape all the time, and perhaps most importantly, it's temporary. Waves move towards the shore, sometimes with significant force and power, but they crash and dissipate. Our teens and tweens need their trusted adults to be along for the ride so that when the wave crashes we can help to steady them. That security lets them come back and again and again when they aren't sure where their path is taking them.

My kid didn't get the result she hoped for last night when she was working on her project. It got too late and the mechanism she created didn't work as she anticipated. So she went to bed in tears, feeling as though she failed. I don't claim to be my best self late at night so I know I didn't ride this wave as well as I hoped. So this morning when we got up I reminded myself that she needs my steady support. I went to her and found she had already made a plan to advocate for herself at school and changed her afternoon commitments to give herself so more time. I encouraged her in her process and commended her on her persistence. This helped us to emotionally repair. And that's sometimes the most important thing, the repair.

Will this happen again? Oh without a doubt. So we will keep riding the wave together.

Parenting can be a tough road, if you want to come and talk about it counseling is a great option.

Dr Wolff

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Kara E. Wolff, PhD
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